A full week and a few days after he was scheduled to return to the capital Juba after a two-year absence, South Sudan rebel Riek Machar is yet to be seen.
Speaking to Aljazeera, South Sudan Rebel leader said he was ready to come back to the capital but the government was not committed to the deal.
The disagreement over the number of troops travelling with the rebel leader and weapons they are allowed to carry to Juba has forced Machar to hold back is long awaited return to actualize a peace deal agreed upon last August.
Speaking to journalists who had gathered at the airport as early as 9am local time, rebel spokesman William Ezekiel said Machar would not be arriving on Tuesday due to “unavoidable circumstance”.
Dr Machar was expected in Juba on Monday but cancelled his travel plans blaming the bad weather in Gambela in southern Ethiopia and Juba. He thus set the Tuesday date which he later cancelled in the afternoon.
In December 2013, South Sudan descended into conflict after President Salva Kiir accused Machar, who he had sacked earlier that year, of planning a coup. Although the war broke out in Juba following these events, it later spread to other parts of Africa’s youngest nation. By then Machar had already fled to Ethiopia.
The brutal conflict in South Sudan has left more than 50,000 people dead, more than two million displaced and the United Nations agencies are warning of famine with accusations that both the government and the rebels are using child soldiers.
Laser-Guided Missiles and guns
The South Sudan government claims that Machar is bringing in more than 200 extra soldiers with him, in contravention of the peace agreement.
Government spokesman Michael Makuei told reporters that the rebel general, Simon Gatwech was also trying to bring anti-tank rounds and laser-guided missiles.
In his argument, rebel spokesman Ezekiel said Gatwech is only bringing 45 troops, in line with agreements, and said they have no such heavy weaponry.
The back and forth counter-accusation has been described by Emma Gordon, senior East Africa analyst at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft as evidence of the “nervousness” present on both sides about the fragility of the agreement.
“It also highlights the huge levels of mistrust between Machar and Kiir and it shows that the peace deal we have now isn’t necessarily comprehensive enough,” said Gordon. “[While] it’s a step in the right direction, the deal doesn’t actually resolve all of the tensions that sparked the violence in the first place.”
On Thursday, the United states, China and other world powers including the European Union and the African Union released an ultimatum, calling on the rebel leader to return to Juba no later than April 23.
As expected, Machar did not travel to Juba and the South Sudan partners might refer the matter to the United Nations and the African Union security councils and request that action is taken. They had said Thursday that they would do so if Machar failed to return by Saturday.
The countries said security conditions in Juba are sufficient for Machar to return and proposed a final compromise that would allow him to arrive with 195 troops, armed with individuals’ weapons, 20 machine guns, and 20 rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
According to rebel negotiator Taban Deng Gai, the rebels known as the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in Opposition ((SPLM-IO)) approved the compromise.
"If tonight the government brings its approval to allow the bringing in of 20 PKM and 20 RPG, then we can talk about the arrival of the first vice president to Juba at any time," said Gai as quoted by VOA.
On Friday, under intense international pressure, the two sides reached an agreement on the number of troops to be brought in by Machar and the exact number of weapons they can carry.
US Ambassador to South Sudan Cartherine Molly Phee said both parties are to blame for the slow implementation of the peace accord. She added that Washington will not work with South Sudan's government if the two parties are not implementing the peace agreement. The US envoy said institutional reforms will remain a prerequisite for assisting the Kiir administration.
Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, the renegade force’s head of foreign relations said Sunday that the US withdrew funding to help transport South Sudan rebel leader to Juba. Machar’s supporters are now pleading with the United Nations to fly Machar from Ethiopia to Juba arguing that failure to travel may jeopardize a peace agreement aimed at putting the chaos to a stop.
The British Embassy in Juba said in a statement on its Facebook page. “It is now time for the parties to take over the primary responsibility of ensuring this return.”
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